Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates
Leaders in Frankfort frequently talk about our biennial state budget as really being a priority and value document rather than just a dollars and cents proposition. And the good news is the budget proposed by the Kentucky House, which passed the House floor with bipartisan agreement last week, places a strong priority on children and families.
Among the key elements impacting kids and families that we applaud in the House proposal include:
- Increased support to the Child Care Assistance Program to increase eligibility standards to 175% of the Federal Poverty Line. That increase, in tandem with continued increased federal investments, will be a significant boost to child well-being, family stability, and workforce viability. Access to high quality, reliable child care allows parents to work, sets children up for success in schools, and strengthens local economies.
- Support of Governor Andy Beshear’s commitment around increased funding for Kentucky’s Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Commonwealth has made strides in children’s health coverage, and this investment can be the catalyst to close the final critical gap that remains.
- Enact a tax on e-cigarettes. This is much more than a revenue enhancement idea; it is about stemming the tide of young people who are becoming addicted to these harmful nicotine-packed products. We were pleased to see that the House increased the tax rate proposed in the Governor’s budget, and we hope that the Senate’s version of the budget raises the e-cigarette tax rate parallel to the current rate on cigarettes. We also hope to see a reinstatement of comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation programming supports to improve the health of Kentuckians now and into the future.
- Needed investments in the child welfare system. This commitment to our most vulnerable Kentuckians and those that care for them is highlighted by several elements in the House proposal including:
- Targeted support for relative and fictive kin caregivers with increased funds for the Relative Placement Support Benefit, which is a critical one-time support for caregivers to purchase clothing, bedding, formula, and school supplies.
- A proposal that will both increase the number of, and increase salaries to improve the retention rate of, frontline social workers.
- Additional supports beyond what the Governor proposed to Child Advocacy Centers, which serve victims of child abuse and neglect.
- As budget discussions continue, there must be considerations around funds needed to successfully implement the federal Family First Act related to family preservation programs, like the Kentucky Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START) program.
As we look at the House’s budget proposal, we were also encouraged to see that – unlike the Governor’s budget proposal – it included resources for behavioral health supports through school counselors to continue efforts to improve school safety and student resiliency. We hope that the Senate will build on that by expanding the types of qualified behavioral health providers that can be billed for services in the school setting, including licensed social workers, licensed psychologists, and other qualified behavioral health specialists. Schools can utilize significant and untapped federal dollars to provide critical services, such as behavioral health screenings and therapeutic counseling.
We were disappointed to see that the House kept the Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS) in-home visitation program at the same decreased level as in the Governor’s budget proposal. HANDS is a proven strategy to impact young families around issues ranging from health outcomes to child abuse prevention. At a time when Kentucky leads the nation in maltreatment of children, HANDS is a value-added proposition in which there is a documented return on investment and should be increased—and certainly not slashed.
While there are a number of other aspects of the Kentucky House budget that merit more attention and analysis, the core of this proposal should be applauded. Much like Governor Beshear, Speaker David Osborne, Representative Steven Rudy, and members of the House placed a primacy on kids in an environment in which needs admittedly outdistance resources.
About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at www.kyyouth.org.